How the Climate Bill Could Boost the Justice40 Initiative

With the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, the administration is closer to achieving its Justice40 goals, but there’s still work to do.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan visits Houston, TX communities subjected to pollution and environmental injustice on his Journey to Justice tour, November 19, 2021.

Credit: EPA

The Inflation Reduction Act invests an unprecedented $369 billion in climate action, but how many of those dollars go towards improving environmental justice? The answer is a mixed bag. More than $60 billion will be subject to the administration's Justice40 commitment, but communities have expressed frustrations with some of the bill’s provisions. Here is an analysis of how this bill heralded as the most significant climate action in history stacks up when it comes to considering environmental justice for, and in, our communities.

The Justice40 Initiative aims to direct 40 percent of all climate and clean energy investments to disadvantaged communities, identified by the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool (CEJST), which is still in beta form. Justice40 already got a large boost from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), and, according to the administration, $29 billion of investments have already incorporated Justice40. Now with the new climate bill, the administration is closer to achieving its Justice40 goals, but there’s still work to do. We’ll talk about that below.

The climate bill gives Justice40 a significant boost

More than $60 billion of the $369 billion of climate provisions in the climate bill will be subject to Justice40 as the law is implemented. (The rest of the money will be used to fund tax credits and rebates which are not subject to Justice40). The majority of the $60 billion will go toward justice-oriented programs, including the new Environmental and Climate Justice Block Grants, grants to address and monitor air pollution, and Neighborhood Access and Equity Grants. These and other justice-oriented programs will direct billions of dollars to the communities Justice40 aims to benefit with the specific purpose of improving the environmental health of the local community, which has long been a goal of the environmental justice movement.

Other programs in the Inflation Reduction Act, such as the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, which will aim to use grants, loans, and other financial resources to spur decarbonization, will also incorporate Justice40 in their implementation. If executed thoughtfully and deliberately, this will ensure that all communities will reap the benefits of transitioning to a clean energy economy, even if they were historically excluded from such investments.

There are still investments to be made; work to be done

While the Inflation Reduction Act puts the administration on the path of realizing its Justice40 goals, its original text disappointingly left billions of dollars for justice-centered programs on the cutting room floor. These investments are still greatly needed. The funding left out includes:

  • $170 billion for affordable housing
  • $30 billion to create a Civilian Climate Corps
  •  $10 billion to replace lead pipes and other investments in clean water
  •  $10 billion for just and equitable transition for energy communities, especially coal communities
  • and $9 billion for climate resilience, including funds for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program.

These investments are critical to achieving the Justice40 vision and they should be included in the yearly appropriations bills or another large spending package.

Protecting communities from potentially harmful provisions

Let’s also acknowledge the harmful provisions that were included in this climate bill. Environmental justice leaders and advocates have expressed well-founded concerns about the compromises that were made to ensure the bill’s passage, including tying renewable energy funding/deployment to fossil fuel leasing on public lands and waters and the promise of a permitting deal that will hinder community participation in potentially dangerous projects. Directing benefits to communities through the Justice40 Initiative is essential for working towards a just climate for all—and the administration must complement this by defending vulnerable communities from potential harms.

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